New England is steeped in history, with attractions where you and your family can glimpse life in the past tense.
New England is steeped in history, with attractions where you and your family can glimpse life in the past tense. Most lifelong New Englanders will remember these locales from their own childhoods, but the sites still retain their charm and enjoyment today. In fact, these top destinations are so much fun your kids won’t mind that they’re educational. Call ahead before hitting the road—some of these destinations are only open during summer.
Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury
Visit this preserved Shaker village to see what daily life was like when the “Shaking Quakers” (named for their energetic dance movements during worship) lived here in the 1800s. This National Historic Landmark represents 200 years of the religious group’s history. Watch artisans craft traditional Shaker oval boxes, brooms, baskets and textiles, and learn about Alberta MacMillan Kirkpatrick, a Shaker who was raised in the village from 1929 to 1936, at the Carriage House Gallery. The exhibits frequently change. There are 25 original Shaker buildings on site to explore, including an old schoolhouse and dressmaking shop. Enjoy a traditional lunch at the Shaker Table, a restaurant built on the foundation of the historic 1811 Blacksmith Shop. 603-783-9511; www.shakers.org.
Newport Mansions, Newport
Introduce your kids to the opulence of Newport’s gilded age with a tour of some of the “summer cottages” of 19th-century high society. Start with the Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style estate built for the Vanderbilt family in 1893. Move on to the Elms, inspired by the Château d’Asnières in western France. Also visit Marble House, another Vanderbilt summer home, where more than half the construction budget was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. You can see varied architectural styles on the Ten Mile Drive, a coastal loop tour through Newport that passes by estates and offers magnificent ocean views. Stop and stretch your legs on the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile stretch, but be careful—the first half of the trail is easy compared to the rocky terrain in the south. 401-847-1000, www.newportmansions.org.
Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth
At Plimoth Plantation’s Pilgrim Village, kids interact with role-players who live daily life as 17th-century characters. You’ll see actors in authentic garb cooking over open flame, eating pea pottage (soup) and fresh bluefish. While speaking in 17th-century dialect, they mend clothes, garden, and tend to cattle, sheep, goats and hens. At the Crafts Center, artisans re-create products and goods once imported from England.
Nearby at Wampanoag Homesite, learn about local history from the Wampanoags and hear stories about their ancestors from a modern viewpoint. Three miles from the village on the Plymouth waterfront sits the Mayflower II, a replica of the boat that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620. 508-746-1622; www.plimoth.org.
Mystic Seaport, Mystic
Climb aboard tall ships, explore a 19th-century fishing village and visit a maritime museum at Mystic Seaport. More than 500 boats are on display, including sailboats and early 20th-century powerboats. Four boats are designated as National Historic Landmarks, including the Charles W. Morgan, a wooden whaleship from 1841; the Sabino, a 1908 passenger ferry; the L.A. Dunton, a 123-foot-long fishing schooner built in 1921; and the Emma C. Berry, an 1866 fishing vessel known as a “smack.”
More than 30 businesses are housed in period buildings, many of which were relocated from across New England. Show the kids what school was like in the village’s schoolhouse and examine groceries in the general store. For children 7 and younger, the Children’s Museum offers a chance to swab a deck and try on sailor outfits, while kids 8 and up can explore the Discovery Barn’s hands-on nautical activities, where they learn to furl a sail or tie a sailor’s knot. 888-973-2767; www.mysticseaport.org.
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Homes, barns, a schoolhouse and even a jail—all from the 18th and 19th centuries—house the museum’s collection of art and artifacts. There’s also a carousel, a 19th-century-style playground and family activity center. 802-985-3346; www.shelburnemuseum.org.
Willowbrook Museum Village,
This restored 19th-century country village showcases period artifacts, including more than 60 horse-drawn sleighs and carriages. 207-793-2784; www.willowbrookmuseum.org.
Old Sturbridge Village,
Explore 40 buildings that re-create a New England town in the 1830s with costumed actors portraying villagers from the era. There are plenty of hands-on activities and a new Kidstory early-learning center. 508-347-3362; www.osv.org.
Freedom Trail, Boston
Follow a 2.5-mile-long redbrick or red-painted line that links 16 historic sites, including the Boston Massacre in downtown Boston, the USS Constitution in Charlestown and the Paul Revere House in the North End. 617-357-8300; www.thefreedomtrail.org.